Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 60:13-14 states that one should say the bracha of Mishaneh Habrios when seeing, among other things, an exceptionally dark-skinned or light-skinned person. The notes in the Artscroll point out that the former doesn't apply nowadays due to how common it is. However, people with albinism are still a rarity in modern times. Should the bracha be made in this case?
I'm not convinced the category of the blessing in question is specifically the medical condition albinism. Arguably anyone "Scandinavian" looking would be included and would have been a rarity in the middle east 1500 years ago where people were more "tan" looking (to overgeneralize a bunch)– Double AA ♦Jul 20, 2021 at 11:53
@DoubleAA Right, that's part of the understanding of the question. Maybe I should base it on how common albinism is in North America.– IzzyJul 21, 2021 at 13:13
@Double AA, while presumably this ruling is rooted in Berakhoth 58b, the KSA was not written 1500 years ago in the mideast, and presumably Germanic/Scandinavian looking people would have been a מעשה בכל יום and therefore an unlikely referent by R. Shelomo Ganzfried.– DeuteronomyJul 23, 2021 at 1:33
@Deuteronomy That's not a compelling argument. Rambam writes to say a blessing on a כושי and he lived in Africa– Double AA ♦Jul 23, 2021 at 13:22
@DoubleAA the MT does not introduce any definition of the term כושי (i.e. it does not introduce a phrase likeשהוא שחור הרבה). That is reflective of it being more of a strict restatement of Talmudic law than the KSA. Also, it is worth noting that he lived in North Africa, not the sub-Saharan.– DeuteronomyJul 23, 2021 at 14:07
Rav E Melamed writes here (Harhavot to Peninei Halakhah Berakhot 14:2) that today people generally encounter those with albinism regularly enough that they should not recite the blessing.
2Indeed, IIUC, his point is that now we live in bigger communities (and we travel more in my view), so it's far more probable to encounter such rare people compared to the olden days. Jul 7, 2021 at 8:29
@Kazibácsi Yes. He also entertains the possibility that the condition is more prevalent today than it used to be.– Joel KJul 7, 2021 at 8:40
1Wouldn't different people encounter these phenomena at different rates? How can anyone make a general rule?– Double AA ♦Jul 7, 2021 at 11:46
Should one say a bracha upon seeing a person with albinism?
I believe that the underlying question is:
How are we to do we define the term לבקן/לווקן/לוקן and do albinos fall within its scope?
The KSA that you quote is citing the SA (OH 225:8):
הרואה כושי וגיחור דהיינו שהוא אדום הרבה והלווקן דהיינו שהוא לבן הרבה והקפח דהיינו שבטנו גדול ומתוך עוביו נראית קומתו מקופחת והננס והדרקונה דהיינו מי שהוא מלא יבלת ופתויי הראש שכל שערותיו דבוקות זה בזה ואת הפיל ואת הקוף מברך בא"י אמ"ה משנה הבריות
The Mehaber here is stating that one is required to recite the blessing of משנה הבריות upon seeing a לווקן. Knowing that we the readers may not know what a לווקן is, the Mehaber tells us that it is דהיינו שהוא לבן הרבה (a person that is very white). It is important to note however, that he is furnishing an interpretation of what a לווקן is.
The term in its non-elaborated form appears in Berakhoth 58b:
ראה את הכושי ואת הגיחור ואת הלווקן ואת הקפח ואת הננס ואת הדרניקוס אומר ברוך משנה הבריות
Where it states, without elaboration, that one is obligated to recite the blessing upon seeing the lavqan.
The term לבקן/לווקן/לוקן is likely a borrowing of the Greek λευκον (levkon literally, white).
In determining what this term means it is helpful to consider other instances where it is found in Hazalic literature.
The term is also utilized in the Mishnah Bekhoroth 7:6:
הכושי, והגיחור, והלבקן, והקפח, והננס, והחרש, והשוטה, והשכור, ובעלי נגעים טהורין, פסולין באדם, וכשרין בבהמה
Where it is specified that a לבקן is disqualified from performing Temple duties.
The Gemara on the Mishnah (Bekhoroth 45b) attempts to clarify what לבקן means by citing the case of a peddler:
לבקן חיוורא כההוא דאמר להו מאן בעי לוקיאני ואישתכח חיוורי
a lavqan is one who is white, as in the case of that person who said: "Who wants [to purchase] a lavqiyani?", and it was found to be white.
Rashi (ad loc) explains that lavqiyani were white sheep:
לוקייני - טלאים לבנים היו
The Rambam in his perush on the Mishnah there characterizes the לבקן as:
one that is white like cheese
Out of all this all that emerges is that a lavqan is someone who is "white" or perhaps excessively white... however this doesn't really explain whether it is describing a phenotypic difference (e.g. racially "white") or whether it intends something more anomalous (e.g. those lacking pigmentation and thus appearing to be very "white" relative to the rest of the population).
I believe that it is the Tifereth Yisrael (R. Yisrael Lifshitz, 1782–1860) that first explicitly identified the לבקן with albinism (Yakhin uBoaz Negaim 2:1):
יש שנולד כך משונה בעורו ונקרא בל"א אלבינוס והוא מום באדם ונקרא בלשון המשנה לבקן בכורות פ"ז מ"ו
There are those born with different skin, who are called in the vernacular "albinus" which is a human defect described in the language of the Mishnah as "lavqan" (e.g. Bekhoroth 7:6)
While I believe it is fair to assume that albinism was intended by the nomenclature all along, it isn't until the early 19th c. that it was explicitly fleshed out as such. Assuming that the language of lavqan employed by the Mishnah/Talmud intended albinism all along, then yes - as per Berakhoth 58b and as codified (OH 225:8), one ought recite the blessing of משנה הבריות upon witnessing such a person.
Tangentially, it ought be noted that where reciting it aloud is likely to bring feelings of embarrassment or shame to the person about whom the blessing is recited, it should be recited discreetly.
Just so I get your point. You're saying its entirely plausible that this blessing might have been said just for seeing a white person, whether they were albino or not? Jul 23, 2021 at 17:02
@Aaron R. Yishmael in Negaim 2:1 states that Jews are neither black nor white, but rather intermediate. I believe that it is possible to read lavqan as having referred to a racially/ethnically white person, however I believe that it is unlikely. Why would they have used a regional term (כושי) for a black person but a descriptive term (lavqan literally means white) for a racially/ethnically white person rather than remain consistent? The Rishonim also do not explain the word in ethnic/regional terms. It is more likely then that it is descriptive of a congenital defect, in modern terms: albinism Jul 23, 2021 at 17:31
It's also worth noting that terms change and perhaps it was a common term to refer to blacks as cushites because most of their interaction with Africans would be those from Cush. Whereas purely white people might be a bit more rare a few thousand years ago. I've often wondered if Lavan is called Lavan because it stood out that he was white Jul 23, 2021 at 18:29
@Aaron Yes, that's certainly true. As regards Lavan, Bereshith Rabbah 60:7 states ולרבקה אח ושמו לבן רבי יצחק אמר לשבח פרדוכוס, and the Matnoth Kahunah there explains the term פרדוכוס by citing the Arukh:פירש הערוך לבן ביותר - וגרס פרדכסוס that Lavan was exceedingly white. Jul 23, 2021 at 19:53
I've posted a question about this, perhaps you could go answer it Jul 23, 2021 at 20:21
The Piskei Teshuvos 225:20 concludes that the Bracha should only be recited upon seeing a person who has a very significant change.
I would counter (and I think OP would to) that an albino is a significant change. OP wanted to know about how common it is and if that would change the Halacha.– MiZehJul 20, 2021 at 11:39
Certainly, I left that up for discussion and assessment, depending on the rarity. I did not look into the commonality of albinism. Although, the Piskei Teshuvos could technically be understood if this person has significant change, meaning if it is a known condition then it may not be included. Jul 20, 2021 at 13:19
The Chayei Adam (63,1) writes that the blessing is only recited on something which is very rarely seen. Based on this, if people with albinism are still a rarity in modern times (which I believe is the case) the blessing should be recited.